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Awesome: 34.57%
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6 reviews, 45 user ratings

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Motorcycle Diaries, The
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by Robert Flaxman

"A visual marvel that's so far left it's running over the median."
4 stars

Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries bookends itself with a Che Guevara quote that states, "This isn't a tale of heroic feats. It's about two lives running parallel for a while." This is both true and misleading. Certainly Diaries does not depict the life of Che Guevara, revolutionary icon. Instead, it focuses on Ernesto Guevara (Gael García Bernal) and a trip of thousands of miles across South America at the age of 24. But the film is suffused with the notion not just that Che was shaped by this trip, but that it's a darn good thing he was. In the end, future considerations weigh a bit heavily on what would otherwise be a gorgeous and haunting travelogue.

Along with his older friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna), Guevara set out to explore the length of South America, traveling from Buenos Aires across Argentina to Chile, then up the Andes to Peru and over to the western part of the Amazon, and finally up into Venezuela in the north. Though he came from a relatively progressive family, the Che we first see appears to have no idea of what he's in for. He finds out soon enough, though, running across all sorts of examples of inequality and evidently feeling more revolutionary all the time.

It's easy to see why Guevara came to feel the way he did, at least through Salles' camera. Traveling on a budget for which the term "shoestring" would be a generous description, Guevara and Granado experienced life through the eyes of the poor and downtrodden, and made acquaintances with many of them. Even at a leper colony, Guevara felt more at home among the lepers, whom he felt were being unfairly segregated (as they weren't contagious while in treatment, but were still confined to a separate bank of the river from the staff). That experience serves as a microcosm for the story of the whole film - Guevara and Granado preferred the company of the common people, those who were considered as societal lepers in the emerging capitalist states of South America.

The problem the film has is that while it says "This is not a tale of heroic feats," it clearly lionizes Che in such a manner that the rest of his life's work - mostly participating in various and frequently unsuccessful Communist revolutions - is implicitly condoned. Che's ideal of equality is nothing to sneeze at, of course, but there's a large difference between theory and practice, as every Communist state in history has shown. We get the first suggestion of Che's slightly less friendly and slightly more armed tendencies when he tells Alberto that a revolution without guns will never work. The film's political leanings solidify at the end when it explains how Guevara was "murdered," conveniently ignoring that he was in the process of attempting a (very poorly-executed) revolt in Bolivia at the time, and was captured and executed by his political enemies, something he had done himself while working with the Cuban revolution. Of course, it's different here because Che was such a great guy. Uh huh. A film cannot be entirely divorced from its politics, and those manifested here hurt the work overall.

It's too bad, because if the film just fictionalized what it had, stripping the "armed Communist revolutionary" baggage from the main character it was holding up for praise, it would be pretty much amazing. The story sprawls a bit, but it feels like a quintessential road movie, with two friends having the experience of their lives. Plot concerns like "dramatic tension" are somewhat secondary in this type of film. Instead, characters are pretty important, and we get a lot on Guevara and Granado, all of which is good if, again, you strip the implied future. It's a divorce that can't really be made, but if we put it into the back of our minds for two hours, it's not that big a deal.

South America itself plays a huge role in the film as well. Salles chose a lot of absolutely gorgeous scenery, setting up a lot of the film as a virtual tourist brochure for various countries. Then there's the way in which the various areas shape Guevara and Granado, mostly the former, in sociopolitical fashion.

Also very important to the film are its two anchor performances. Bernal gives a mesmerizing, haunting performance, doing all he can to embody Guevara's transformation. He's not likely to get much awards push if any, but he's the real deal. Every emotion is perfect. De La Serna is similarly outstanding, albeit in a role that mostly serves as Che's comic relief sidekick.

It's great to look at and the actors are a treat, but the socialist politics of The Motorcycle Diaries make it slightly harder to take seriously. It's not just that Guevara grew up to be a Communist guerrilla, it's that the film pays lip service to the idea that it's really just exploring a trip Guevara took, before launching headlong into showing how right he was about the oppressed peoples and such. And he was right about the oppressed peoples, but his methods weren't the greatest.

Like Hero, which came out in the U.S. earlier this year, The Motorcycle Diaries is a film that is very good, but would have been better if it had made some better political choices. Guevara's iconic status ensured that his story would never have been fictionalized, but if Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera really wanted to do something with their characters, it might have been better to tone down the Communist hero worship.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8513&reviewer=385
originally posted: 11/19/04 03:36:16
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/01/10 chris. I wonder...who is it that is innocent of murder? 5 stars
1/23/10 plgrm It'd be nice if Hollywood, instead of indulging in self-serving mythmaking, 2 stars
11/12/07 ercadel getereralge 4 stars
4/28/07 Christine Good story, very complex ,and makes you think. 5 stars
1/02/07 Charles Tatum Inspiring as in "I want to overthrow the govt and kill people"? 3 stars
9/28/06 Jin inspiring and very unique 5 stars
8/29/06 Jake An entertaining movie about a communist 4 stars
5/23/06 Bert Best movie ever, best story ever told! 5 stars
11/21/05 Kurtis J. Beard Poetic film. Visually stunning. Great acting. 4 stars
11/03/05 Bad Critic A very good movie. Strong performances and a great plot. 4 stars
11/03/05 Madd Mooper A solid enough film, enjoyable on a certain level although don't look for greatness 4 stars
8/29/05 Nick Kraemer great imagery. great story. doesn't get caught up in politics 5 stars
7/12/05 the grinch the "legend" was a murderer,READ and find out who this guy really was,movie sucked too 1 stars
6/10/05 Simon Solid. Its focus seems misguided due to some faulty filmmaking at times, but overall good. 4 stars
5/08/05 Alex Amazing performances, great movie!!. A life changing experience, South America's reality 5 stars
3/28/05 Phil M. Aficionado Visually stunning, but left me with a "where's the beef" reaction 3 stars
3/28/05 JoannaVan Langen LOVED it! LOved it!! Loved it!!! 5 stars
2/17/05 dian anderson GREAT MOVIE 5 stars
1/29/05 Carrie Hubbard All I could say for this movie was, Huh? 1 stars
12/30/04 y2mckay Solid film and top performances, De La Serna steals movie 4 stars
12/24/04 green gremlin All those multinational corporations ceo's deserve to be locked up in a filthy leper colony 5 stars
12/19/04 Landshark But for our own biases going in, we'd probably call "Diaries" a lesson in values 5 stars
12/13/04 Gary Coulter Fantastic insight into the man, as opposed to the legend. 5 stars
12/06/04 Elisa Excellent 5 stars
11/28/04 Peteco Very good. 4 stars
11/24/04 drfardook Visually excellent. Performances good. Editing needs a little tweak. 4 stars
11/04/04 your worst goddamn nightmare Very Very good film. The latter part was a little too overdrawn tho... 4 stars
11/02/04 Hillary Roth powerful 5 stars
10/28/04 Dennis Nice movie, but probably better if you have an interest in south america 4 stars
10/28/04 Maria Captures the moment beautifully 5 stars
10/23/04 Suzz excellent film/great performances all around 5 stars
10/19/04 Jenna very cool movie 5 stars
10/19/04 Betsy beautiful translation of a truly inspiring book 5 stars
10/18/04 Dave See it's Karma, leave your Dogma in the lobby. 5 stars
10/18/04 Helga Fellay excellent 5 stars
10/17/04 Judith Levitt Wonderful, informative as well as beautifullly done 5 stars
10/17/04 Stevo This movie is powerfully written and beautifully acted. 5 stars
10/10/04 Kay Sarich I thought the film was excellent, it really made me want to do good in the world. 5 stars
10/06/04 Ted C An awesome inspiring delightful visual feast for the eyes 5 stars
9/28/04 Betsy Brain-dead salute to a thug and terrioist - Redford is deep in the loony left 1 stars
9/14/04 jim great 5 stars
8/15/04 Christine Todd Inspiring and real 5 stars
5/11/04 Marina Veiga beautiful and very funny 5 stars
3/12/04 Roberto De La Serna Awesome says it all 5 stars
2/08/04 Sophie Great film. Almost historically accurate 5 stars
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  24-Sep-2004 (R)
  DVD: 15-Feb-2005



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